Friday, February 1, 2013

Fridays With Frank: Frank Lewis Lee Begins a Career

Frank Lewis Lee
In 1896 in La Grange, Kentucky, Frank Lewis Lee got his first paying job.  He worked doing odd jobs at McDowell Drug Store on Main Street, just a short walk from the Lee home.  He made $1.50 per week. Granddad soon worked his way up and became a clerk at the drug store, waiting on customers who came in for medicine or who stopped by the soda fountain for a treat.  He became very interested in both the business and the science involved in running the drug store, and thus began his quest to become a pharmacist and have his own drug store.

Frank L. Lee (standing on right)
In Front of McDowell Drug Store
La Grange, KY, c. 1900

Granddad passed the State Board of Pharmacy exam in 1902, and soon he was working at Penny's Drug Store in Stanford, Kentucky, earning $6 a week.  It was during his time here that he met his future wife and my grandmother, Elizabeth "Bettie" Welch Rochester.  Courting, engagement, and marriage in 1905 was the course for my grandparents.  (Much more about their love and marriage in next week's posts!)  Before they married, however, granddad moved to Middlesboro, Kentucky, and worked as a pharmacist in the H. H. Sprague Drug Store.

Newspaper Ad for Lee's Drug Store
Eminence, KY, 1907

After Frank and Elizabeth married, they began searching for the perfect place to call home.  Their first stop was Eminence, Kentucky, where Granddad opened his own drug store.  Despite a store on the main thoroughfare in downtown Eminence and advertisements in the local newspaper, Granddad sold his store here and the young couple set out for the west coast.

Letter of Recommendation for Frank L. Lee
Written by Pharmacist D. McDowell
La Grange, KY, 1908

Letter of Recommendation for Frank L. Lee
Written by Pharmacist G. L. Penny
Stanford, KY, 1908


In January of 1908, my grandparents traveled across the country and settled in La Jolla, California.  Armed with letters of recommendation from his former bosses, Granddad secured a job at Setchell Drug Store in La Jolla.

Frank L. Lee in front of Setchel Drug Store
La Jolla, CA, 1908

The stay in La Jolla , however, was short, and the couple returned to Kentucky in September 1908, settling in Middlesboro.  Granddad went back to work at H. H. Sprague Drug Store, bought the business  in 1910, and thus established Lee's Drug Store.  In 1913, he moved the business to Fountain Square in downtown Middlesboro.  He would own and operate Lee's Drug Store here until 1958 when he sold his interest in the business.

Please visit my blog again in the coming days so I can share with you a very unique letter my granddad wrote to his father to tell him he was coming home from California.  It's priceless!  Also, I'll be sharing some photos and details of my grandparent's courtship and wedding.

The source for some of the dates and details in today's post is the obituary of Frank L. Lee as it appeared in the Middlesboro Daily News, June 11, 1962, p. 1.


  1. What a spectacular find. While trying to do some research on my great grandparents, Charles M. and Ruth Bode McDowell, I came across this wonderful letter written by who I believe is my great great grandfather, Don Carlos McDowell. How Wonderful!
    Melanie McDowell Kircher Yates

    1. Oh, wow!!! I'm so glad you found this letter, Melanie, and thank you for letting me know. So your great great grandfather owned McDowell's Drug Store in La Grange. He gave my grandfather his start and was such an important influence in his life.